Written by CorpsAfrica/Malawi Volunteer Ms. Lucy Chihana
I have always been slim and tiny. I don’t remember at any point in my life weighing much or being tall. Am just me. I am not exactly picky when it comes to food. I can have 2 bananas and a bottle of water for lunch. I have my weird cycles and food alternatives that make my neighbor uncomfortable as she emphasizes the importance of “nsima” but I never miss breakfast no matter how early I am supposed to leave home. I make sure I take something “warm.” However, this is not how most people live in Malawi, life is a lot harder. Breakfast is a luxury for the majority. It’s usually 2 meals a day, lunch and dinner, for those with enough to eat.
I got here during the harvesting season. Almost everyone had food (i.e. “maize”). It might have not been much but they had something and there was no hunger talk, no food distribution, no skipping meals due to lack of food. Some women kept asking me why I take sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes, etc…. for lunch when there’s plenty of cheap maize to make my “ufa” for nsima. My neighbour thought I don’t know how to do the whole “ufa” process hence offered to do it for me as long as I buy my maize. I tried my best to talk and explain to the women that its not all about nsima. Well, that didn’t go well. They told me nsima is life and nothing can substitute it. One important lesson I got from all this is that its actually very difficult to change peoples mindsets. Just telling people how to do certain things when all their lives they have done things in a particular way and they survived, won’t work. Things got to a point where my neighbour used to cook her food and bring it to my house so we can eat together just so that I shouldn’t starve because she never saw me cook nsima. In her words she was scared I might be “malnourished” because am not eating nsima. That’s just how deep some people value nsima, “Malawi’s staple food.”
My neighbor always talked about how she was sure I didn’t know how to cook nsima I never answered her claims, but she was in for a surprise.
I cooked nsima!!!!
One Saturday, I decided to go to her house and cook them nsima just to prove a point. When she heard that I was planning on cooking for them she laughed it off and said if indeed I did and succeeded she was going to clean my house. Well, now she knows that I know how to cook nsima. It’s just that am lazy about it or maybe I just prefer other alternatives when it comes to food rather than nsima.
It is baffling how deeply rooted people are to eating nsima and its so hard to fight this status quo. The thing is you can’t tell people to change the way things are done because that’s how their parents did it and survived. But, I’m not saying its impossible. The “nsima mindset” is one of the major things worsening the hunger crisis currently underway in Malawi. A country blessed with abundant water sources, rich fertile soil toiling with hunger year after year.